It's a small room that gets a lot of use. That makes its visibility important, as well as its comfort.
The hall bathroom represents a design challenge: How much style can you fit in 40 square feet?
But that little room also could be an appealing starting point: a remodeling project small enough to be affordable and still look stylish or even luxurious.
The hall bathroom also can be a test of DIY skills without overwhelming the family handyman. (Just remember, it's OK to enlist a professional when needed, and some things need city permits.)
Bathroom remodels continue to be a hot item this summer, report industry experts. As the economy continues to recover, homeowners keep up the trend of updating their houses instead of moving.
"All the (remodeling) business is really coming up," said Harry Headrick, owner of Expert Design & Construction in Rancho Cordova. "The last four years, bathroom (projects) really became a lot more popular as people's budgets obviously were a lot tighter."
"The reason people are tackling bathrooms especially the powder room or small hall bathroom is it's manageable," said Sarah Fishburne, Home Depot's trend and design director. "It's a weekend project or a couple of weekends that you can tackle yourself. Products are ever-evolving to make it simpler, too."
But these little rooms represent a design challenge namely size. It's small and can't get bigger. Often, the hall bathroom's position in the house, squeezed between other rooms, prevents expansion.
A typical hall bath with shower measures 5 by 8 feet; with a bathtub, it's a few square feet more. Throw in the toilet and vanity, and that's one cramped space.
The trick is to make the room look more spacious without knocking down walls.
Sacramento designer Kerrie Kelly likes the new options offered for smaller bathrooms.
"Vanities that 'float' are popular," Kelly said. "They mount to the wall and provide visual spaciousness and accessibility."
Just make sure that vanity has more storage space, Headrick said.
"People want efficient storage in the vanity."
Large-format tiles often 12 by 12 inches or 12 by 24 on walls or the floor create the illusion of more in less space.
"Large-scale tiles are increasingly popular," Headrick said. "People want to get rid of the grout lines. From a maintenance standpoint, the bigger tiles make sense; they're much easier to keep looking new.
"People are really loving porcelain," he added. "Travertine has sort of run its course; porcelain tile is really popular right now."
Contrasting with the big tiles are little mosaic tiles that add sparkle and texture. The new accents combine tumbled or polished stone with ceramic and glass.
"Large-format tile makes a huge impact," Fishburne said. "We're also seeing a resurgence in small mosaic tile, hexagons and subway tile. Combined, they can look very current. Everyone appreciates tile. It's clean and very approachable."
A tile backsplash is one of those DIY weekend updates, she added, using such tools as SimpleMat to line up the tile.
White overwhelmingly remains the most popular choice of bathroom color. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association's 2013 Style Report, white and off-white are used in 71 percent of all bathrooms, followed by beige and bone.
The bathroom color on the rise: gray. It will be used in an estimated 56 percent of 2013 bathroom remodel color schemes, says the NKBA, because of "its growing appeal, creating chic, sophisticated spaces." Gray also blends well with marble and other natural stones.
"People are really liking more grays and natural tones in the bathroom," Headrick said.
But don't be afraid of color or pattern. It can add a lot of impact in a small space. Dark-hued cabinets (think espresso) contrasted with light-colored floors "look very inviting," Fishburne said. "It's something you can live with a long time."
Cutting down on clutter also can make a room seem larger. So do large (often framed) mirrors; they give the illusion of more space. But storage space is always a necessity.
Mirrored storage such as a large, recessed medicine cabinet tackles both issues.
"(I) love the idea of Robern medicine cabinets that incorporate loads of storage, lighting and electrical all in one component," Kelly said.
Recessed storage such as shelves or cabinets built into the wall add space without using up more floor space.
Pay attention to lighting. Soft light from sconces at either side of the vanity mirror cuts down on shadows. But bright light is needed for such tasks as shaving and applying makeup.
Kelly spices up bathroom lighting with a little bling. A small chandelier can be fun and unexpected in a guest bath. A light bar can look sleek and stylish.
The most requested item in bathroom makeovers: a larger shower.
"People are thinking they'll be in that home another 20, 30 years," Headrick noted. "They're looking down the road at what they may need. So, they're taking out the tub and installing a larger shower with a curbless entry. From a safety standpoint, there's nothing to trip over. It has accessibility if they need to use a walker."
Also popular are showers with a built-in bench and a "pony wall," or half-wall, and half-glass enclosure.
"It minimizes the glass while maximizing the light in the shower," Headrick said.
Shower fixtures offer a lot more options, too. Multiple showerheads with body sprays at different heights are popular. So are "rain" shower heads that install in the ceiling and allow the water to cascade down as in a summer storm.
"Rain heads work especially well if you're getting rid of the shower walls," Headrick said.
One remodel that makes a difference: swapping out the toilet for an efficient water-saving model. Often, the hall bathroom gets the most use.
"Switching the toilet is a great way to save money and water," Fishburne said. "It may cost a little more, but in the long run, you'll save a lot."
Trends from the kitchen continue to migrate into the bath. That includes the use of synthetic counter materials such as Silestone instead of granite or marble.
"We are seeing integrated sinks with Silestone being very popular, especially in the white coloration and those that mimic Calcutta and Carrera marble," Kelly said.
In fixtures, chrome, gold and oiled bronze are making a comeback, but the best-seller is brushed nickel.
"More than anything, brushed nickel has become the new standard," Headrick said.
The bathroom's small size can be an asset, Fishburne said. "It's a smaller space and not so intimidating," she said. "You can have some fun. If you don't like it. you can always repaint."
TIPS FOR BEFORE YOU START
Updating a hall or guest bathroom may seem like a small project, but costs can add up quickly. Here are some pointers to consider, courtesy of expert Matt Muenster, host of DIY Network's "BATHtastic!":
Start with a budget. It seems simple, but it's so important. Money affects every other decision in this project; know what you can afford and are willing to spend. Also, consider time in your calculations. Hiring an expert may get the project done much faster.
Go green: Water-efficient toilets and low-flow shower heads pay off with future savings. Low-VOC paints and chemical-free products are better for your family's health. Recycle when possible; consider painting cabinets instead of dumping them into a landfill.
Refinish: Putting a fresh sheen on a tub, shower, sink or tile costs a fraction of replacement. Consider refinishing these ceramic fixtures. It takes less time than replacing, too; your bathroom won't be torn up for weeks.
Don't move the plumbing: Keep the toilet, sink and tub or shower in the same positions. Changing them may sound easy in a small room, but it involves a lot of plumbing work under the house and in walls. That's expensive. Spend the money on other upgrades.
Cheap and easy change: Keep the same vanity but update the hardware and fixtures, such as drawer pulls and faucet handles. If you change the sink faucets, update the shower fixtures, too. Be sure to use the same finish such as stainless steel, aged bronze or brushed nickel to keep the room looking cohesive.
Be brutally honest: Can you really do this yourself? Know your DIY limits and bring in experts. It costs less to hire someone to do it right the first time than repair bad DIY mistakes. Concentrate on what you can do, such as painting or tiling a backsplash.
Lighting is important: More overall lighting makes a small bathroom seem larger. Installed at eye level, sconces on either side of the vanity mirror offer ideal lighting with fewer unflattering shadows than overhead lighting. Remember that brighter light is needed for shaving and applying makeup. A dimmer is good for a relaxing bath.
Ventilation: Moisture is your bathroom's enemy. A good vented exhaust fan is a must. New models are much quieter these days, and more stylish, too. Look for a fan rated at least 50 cubic feet per minute for a typical hall bathroom.
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.